BBC Period Dramas: My Latest Obession - Part I

An inveterate TV watcher, period dramas are my favourite. Be they Indian or western, I simply love watching movies, serials, dramas that are set in ancient, medieval or even early modern times. Watching period dramas (the good ones, not the Ramanand Sagar variety) is like being in a time machine. They allow you a glimpse into a world that exists only in books and the imagination. Within this genre, I think period dramas produced by the BBC are par excellence. In the last few months, I've watched at least four period dramas which I enjoyed immensely. I'm going to write about two- North and South and Downton Abbey.

The first is a four part mini series called North and South. It is based on a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, a British novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. I'm ashamed to admit that though I call myself 'well read', this was the first time I had heard of the good lady. North and South, written in 1854-1855, is set in the fictional town of Milton in the North of England, where the Industrial Revolution is changing the city, the economy and its social fabric. Into this town comes Margaret Hale, the daughter of a priest, from the South of England, generally considered to be more cultured and advanced than the North. Hence the title North and South - to indicate a divide. 

Margaret soon meets John Thornton, a rich and handsome cotton manufacturer who has risen out of poverty through sheer hard work. Thornton seems rough and harsh to the more genteel and soft Miss Hale. Their differences in upbringing, culture and social status often brings them into conflict with each other. Despite, or maybe because of this, they are attracted towards each other. The rest of the story is about how they fall in love and unite in the end.

What I liked about this series is how they have woven what is essentially a love story, into the socio economic conditions of the time: child labour, urbanisation, working conditions, organisation of labour and the rise of trade unions form the backdrop against which the story unfolds. There is a touching scene inside the cotton mill, where a mother and her little daughter are taking a break from work. When Mrs. Thornton - the hero's dragon mother - reprimands them for falling behind, the mother pleads that her child is sick. To which, slightly moved, Mrs. Thornton asks if there is another child at home who can take the sick child's place. When the mother answers in the affirmative, she instructs her to get the child into the mill and working within the hour or 'loose the place' as there were many more to take her place. In today's world, this would have been heresy. But during those times, child labour in mills and sweat shops was common and has been dealt by other authors like Dickens also. 

But of course what I liked best was the chemistry between the lead pair and the scenes where I felt like I was watching a Hindi movie! There is the scene where Miss Hale rushes
out in front of an angry mob to save Mr. Thornton, getting hit by a stone on the head for her troubles. Then there is the scene where she's leaving the town, and Mr. Thornton, watching her drive away says 'Look back. Look back at me'. Very intense yes? And very SRK in DDLJ saying 'Palat! Palat'!!!

And the last and true-to-bollywood-tradition scene - the railway station scene where they declare their love for each other. On a more serious note, I could also see similarities with my all time favourite novel Pride and Prejudice. The basic plots are almost the same - of first impressions, dictated by the social attitudes of the time, then the shift in perception and finally uniting for love. Watch this 'proposal scene' and tell me if you also see any similarities.

If you're the sort that likes romantic period dramas, I highly recommend the series. The casting is good. Richard Armitage is superb as John Thornton. Handsome, with dark brooding looks. Yummylicious! Could also play Mr. Darcy and Heathcliffe - gentlemen of the same league as John Thornton. Look out for him in the upcoming movie The Hobbit. Daniela DanbyAshe as Margaret Hale is equally good. Pretty and a little chubby. Reminds me of Kate Winslet in Titanic before she became a stick insect. You'll like her. Other actors have also done a good job.

So go ahead and watch this mini series. You won't regret it. I promise!

Update: I've recently learned how to do podcasts. My first podcast is a reading of this very post. Let me know what you think.

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9 Responses to BBC Period Dramas: My Latest Obession - Part I

  1. Quizzerix says:

    Well written...and BBC always does a super job of recreating the settings..that's why their adaptation of any classics/drama do well..

  2. There! I loved North and South too. Its a mini series but very well made, the contrast as reflected in the Title has been shown nicely.

    There are many other series like this one, if you would care to visit my blog. I love period dramas and I blog about them.

    Good Day!

  3. Rickie says:

    Hi Deepa,
    Thank you for visiting my blog! And thank you for reminding me that I HAVE to catch Downtown Abbey...I have heard so much about this series!
    Great blog...I am sure to keep checking in!

  4. radha says:

    Missed this. BBC really does a good job.

  5. Deepa says:

    @Radha: You should certainly try to get this one. I think you could watch it on YouTube or maybe download it online.

  6. Hi, I'm a new reader. I watched a bit of Downton Abbey. Loved the period piece part of it, but you're right that they do tend to get hindi movie-ish in the end!! Will check North and South now!

  7. AMODINI says:

    I just finished watching North & South on Netflix Instant and loved it! Am also a big fan of Downton Abbey - still have to see Season 2 of that. Also really liked the BBC's Pride and Prejudice, and am now watching "Daniel Deronda", also a BBC production. Will shortly do a post on my blog, about TV dramas on Netflix.

  8. Elizabeth Gaskell - Haven’t heard of her and going by all that you have written, I am not proud of it.

    Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayan’ – has shaped our ideas and views – in a regressive manner. Not that books, experts, pundits, et al have done otherwise. But the visual medium is very powerful and all of these have culminated in a warped version of Ram, Sita and Ramayan. Even Mahabharat.